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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2013 5:28 pm 
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Reading Guenther is challenging, but his "take" on Dzogchen and tantra is no more idiosyncratic than most of the other modern scholars who are very quick with their own interpretations. In my opinion, his writings and comments can be quite valuable. My favorites are "From Reductionism to Creativity" and "Yuganaddha" (the Tantric View of Life)

To say that he is "completely discredited" is nonsense.


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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2013 9:56 pm 
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Aemilius wrote:
During a normal working day you can practice all of the branches of the Noble Eightfold Path, that is to say: 1. Right view, 2. Right intention, 3. Right speech, 4. Right action, 5. Right livelihood, 6. Right effort, 7. Right mindfulness, & 8. Right concentration.
Practitioner of Shakyamuni's teaching is any person who follows naturally in his everyday life the noble eightfold path.
How can you say, or know what a person is? You can't, without the supranormal powers of a Buddha.
It is against the Mahayana to say that a person "is not a practitioner". If you say it of a sincere, committed person who has translated rare Dharma books for a wide circle of readers, it constitutes a serious infraction of Bodhisattva precepts.


I agree with you.

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 1:57 am 
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Herbert Guenther used an idiosyncratic vocabulary drawn from existentialism to translatre technical Buddhist terms. For example, he translated byang chub sems (bodhicitta) as "consumate perspicacity" in his translation of Longchenpa, "Kindly Bent to Ease Us." To get a flavor of his terminology, check out the Guenthesaurus

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 2:19 am 
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Dr. Guenther's translations are not very useful, which is really unfortunate because he chose excellent works to translate. But he obviously loved Longchenpa and put years of his life into attempting to translate some of the most sublime texts in the Nyingma tradition. He seemed really positive about the Dharma all the time, there wasn't a hint of academic skepticism there, as is often present in western scholars' books. I'm sure that spending so much time in connection with these writings must have planted the seeds for a fortunate rebirth, or possibly more.

He definitely left the reader wanting to know more, and that could be a good thing.

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 5:01 pm 
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We've been discussing Guenther's contributions to Buddha Dharma in English. I'd like to suggest a different contribution: he helped give Buddhism generally and Dzogchen in particular credibility as a serious philosophical discourse among academics by showing that it is at least as rigorous as, say, phenomenology. Prior, if anyone knew of this tradition, it was often to dismiss it as suitable for eccentrics (think of Elvis reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead and popping pills in the loo) or as degenerate "lamaism," and not authentic Buddhism.

Consequently, I was first introduced to Buddhist teachings in an introduction-to-philosophy class at a community college in Oregon. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had such an experience. That would be much less likely to have happened absent the efforts of HV Guenther. I'm thankful for that.

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:33 pm 
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Guenther did a tremendous amount to make the Nyingma a suitable subject for academic study at a time when almost all other academics were focused on the Gelukpa. He was an astonishingly well-educated man who had a very kind disposition. Whether it was a mistake to situate buddhist philosophy as he did or not is an open question, but he is far from "discredited". Most of those that have trouble with figuring out his terms are simply unacquainted with the German philosophical tradition. We have many more simple translations now but we also have similarly idiosyncratic translations like Lama Tony Duff's work. In my opinion, they all have their place, and each in their way pays the reader back for their investment in understanding the linguistic community that produced them.

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 4:46 pm 
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Karma Dorje wrote:
Guenther did a tremendous amount to make the Nyingma a suitable subject for academic study at a time when almost all other academics were focused on the Gelukpa. He was an astonishingly well-educated man who had a very kind disposition. Whether it was a mistake to situate buddhist philosophy as he did or not is an open question, but he is far from "discredited". Most of those that have trouble with figuring out his terms are simply unacquainted with the German philosophical tradition. We have many more simple translations now but we also have similarly idiosyncratic translations like Lama Tony Duff's work. In my opinion, they all have their place, and each in their way pays the reader back for their investment in understanding the linguistic community that produced them.


:good:

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 6:49 pm 
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:good: Seconded.


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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 7:30 pm 
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Simon E. wrote:
:good: Seconded.


I'm not seconding this. I feel our time would be better spent learning Dharma vocabulary in Tibetan so that we can understand the great Nyingma texts as they are meant to be understood, rather than learning German philosophy so that we can understand Dr. Guenther. Although there are one or two of his definitions that have been carried forward by subsequent translator practitioners, most of his translations of the Key terminology of the Nyingma tradition are simply inaccurate. While I am not fluent in Tibetan myself, I do know a fair amount of vocabulary, and Dr. Guenther's glosses --according to bilingual Tibetan Rinpoche's and long term translators--are not in keeping with their actual meaning.

Tibetan isn't very hard. At 54 my reading Tibetan is improving all the time just from reading my daily practices from pecha, and I plan to resume my formal Tibetan studies in the Fall. As a famous linguist said on National Public Radio yesterday, the research is conclusive: in the human lifespan the best time to start learning a language is right now... when you first think of it. It is just going to be more difficult next year. I might add that we as practitioners can rely on Manjushri or Saraswati to improve our intelligence and language acquisition at any point in the human lifespan.

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 6:27 pm 
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While I agree that learning Tibetan is by far the best way to approach Tibetan Buddhist materials (and I certainly don't want to dissuade people from making the effort), I respectfully take issue with the statement that Tibetan "isn't very hard". To begin with, there are few people alive, foreign or Tibetan, who can read, with equal facility, Tibetan scriptures that are translations from the Sanskrit, modern Tibetan newspapers, Tibetan works written by yogis who use a lot of colloquial or regional idioms, Old Tibetan or Dunhuang manuscripts, etc. etc. It is not too difficult to reach a level of Tibetan proficiency to read a lot of stuff, but even the best scholars, Tibetan and otherwise, often come to disagreements about how certain technical Buddhist terms, for example, should be interpreted/translated (and being a Rinpoche, by the way, does not always mean one is correct; even two Rinpoches may find themselves in disagreement).

I believe that Guenther never at all intended that his translations should be "authoritative". If he had so intended, he would not have included such copious notes on why he chose the words he did. Moreover, he was more widely read in Tibetan than many of the people who now criticize him; I follow Karma Dorje in believing that one's own readings of Tibetan material can be aided by reading the translations of people who are clearly qualified to undertake them to see what they were trying to get at, rather than dismissing them out of hand.


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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 8:56 pm 
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tingdzin wrote:
While I agree that learning Tibetan is by far the best way to approach Tibetan Buddhist materials (and I certainly don't want to dissuade people from making the effort), I respectfully take issue with the statement that Tibetan "isn't very hard". To begin with, there are few people alive, foreign or Tibetan, who can read, with equal facility, Tibetan scriptures that are translations from the Sanskrit, modern Tibetan newspapers, Tibetan works written by yogis who use a lot of colloquial or regional idioms, Old Tibetan or Dunhuang manuscripts, etc. etc. It is not too difficult to reach a level of Tibetan proficiency to read a lot of stuff, but even the best scholars, Tibetan and otherwise, often come to disagreements about how certain technical Buddhist terms, for example, should be interpreted/translated (and being a Rinpoche, by the way, does not always mean one is correct; even two Rinpoches may find themselves in disagreement).

I believe that Guenther never at all intended that his translations should be "authoritative". If he had so intended, he would not have included such copious notes on why he chose the words he did. Moreover, he was more widely read in Tibetan than many of the people who now criticize him; I follow Karma Dorje in believing that one's own readings of Tibetan material can be aided by reading the translations of people who are clearly qualified to undertake them to see what they were trying to get at, rather than dismissing them out of hand.


In my opinion, Nyingma practitioners don't need to be scholars or translators, or read Sanskrit, newspaper, or Dunhuang manuscripts. We need to be able to read the pithy practice instructions of Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa, e.g. the Chö Ying Dzod (the Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena,) or at least get a handle on the basic terminology of the practices we specialize in. We can definitely be aided by translations by excellent scholar-practitioner--translators, such as those at Tsadra, Padmakara, and Padma Publishing. Dr. Guenther made very important contributions, as related above... but, I would argue that no professional translator would cite his translations as excellent or even good. No reason to go to Dzogchen by way of German philosophy. Yes, I would dismiss them out of hand, because once people get a wrong view, it is hard to undo it.

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 9:05 pm 
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A good article on Guenther: "Broad, noeticness and other Guentheriana" by Agehananda Bharati
http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/retrieve/522671/kailash_05_02_03.pdf

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 11:44 pm 
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Yudron wrote:
In my opinion, Nyingma practitioners don't need to be scholars or translators, or read Sanskrit, newspaper, or Dunhuang manuscripts. We need to be able to read the pithy practice instructions of Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa, e.g. the Chö Ying Dzod (the Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena,) or at least get a handle on the basic terminology of the practices we specialize in. We can definitely be aided by translations by excellent scholar-practitioner--translators, such as those at Tsadra, Padmakara, and Padma Publishing. Dr. Guenther made very important contributions, as related above... but, I would argue that no professional translator would cite his translations as excellent or even good. No reason to go to Dzogchen by way of German philosophy. Yes, I would dismiss them out of hand, because once people get a wrong view, it is hard to undo it.


For a certain segment of practitioners, this is undoubtedly true. However, there are countless great scholars in the Nyingma tradition that read, studied and mastered a lot more than a few pith instructions. Indeed by dint of Dudjom Rinpoche's great scholarship, much was saved after the Chinese occupation that would otherwise have been lost. This is not to compare HH's scholarship to Herr Guenther's but they were both products of a time and place. Guenther had a brilliant mind, educated in a rigorous way not often found in today's descent of the Academy to trade school status. He was also very kind and generous and genuinely passionate about his studies.

It would be a real shame not to learn to read Sanskrit, as so much of the world's great literature and scripture is written in it, but I understand that time is limited and one has to choose one's pursuits carefully.

While I find that Guenther's translations are often ungainly, sometimes tortuous and perennially lacking in poetry (which has also been my criticism of Lama Duff's work)... I don't think I have found much that actually constitutes clear-cut wrong view. Could you give an example of this?

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 2:09 am 
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Karma Dorje wrote:
Yudron wrote:
In my opinion, Nyingma practitioners don't need to be scholars or translators, or read Sanskrit, newspaper, or Dunhuang manuscripts. We need to be able to read the pithy practice instructions of Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa, e.g. the Chö Ying Dzod (the Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena,) or at least get a handle on the basic terminology of the practices we specialize in. We can definitely be aided by translations by excellent scholar-practitioner--translators, such as those at Tsadra, Padmakara, and Padma Publishing. Dr. Guenther made very important contributions, as related above... but, I would argue that no professional translator would cite his translations as excellent or even good. No reason to go to Dzogchen by way of German philosophy. Yes, I would dismiss them out of hand, because once people get a wrong view, it is hard to undo it.


For a certain segment of practitioners, this is undoubtedly true. However, there are countless great scholars in the Nyingma tradition that read, studied and mastered a lot more than a few pith instructions. Indeed by dint of Dudjom Rinpoche's great scholarship, much was saved after the Chinese occupation that would otherwise have been lost. This is not to compare HH's scholarship to Herr Guenther's but they were both products of a time and place. Guenther had a brilliant mind, educated in a rigorous way not often found in today's descent of the Academy to trade school status. He was also very kind and generous and genuinely passionate about his studies.

It would be a real shame not to learn to read Sanskrit, as so much of the world's great literature and scripture is written in it, but I understand that time is limited and one has to choose one's pursuits carefully.

While I find that Guenther's translations are often ungainly, sometimes tortuous and perennially lacking in poetry (which has also been my criticism of Lama Duff's work)... I don't think I have found much that actually constitutes clear-cut wrong view. Could you give an example of this?


If I have time I will. I am going off line until late May in a coupla days, and I'm just getting ready. Sakyas are doing the most with Sanskrit. The loss of the great library at Sakya was perhaps the worst material loss for the Dharma. I understand it contained original Sanskrit texts.

It it not the opinion of my lamas that Sanskrit studies are a good use of our time. Although Sanskrit is a living language, it is not currently a Buddhist language--so it is dead as a Buddhist language. The Tibetan language beautifully and clearly expresses the Buddhadharma, as the written language was created mainly to communicate Dharma. It is not necessary for us to go back way more than 1,000 years in history and be Buddhist archeologists. I like archeology, but the path to enlightenment is right there in the Tibetan.

Again, I respect what Dr. Guenther did, and he made an important contribution.

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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Fri Apr 12, 2013 3:42 am 
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Yudron wrote:
If I have time I will. I am going off line until late May in a coupla days, and I'm just getting ready. Sakyas are doing the most with Sanskrit. The loss of the great library at Sakya was perhaps the worst material loss for the Dharma. I understand it contained original Sanskrit texts.


You might find this interesting:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/17439622/A-Ta ... eir-Future

It seems that most of the Sanskrit texts from Sakya survived and are becoming available again.


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 Post subject: Re: Guenther
PostPosted: Thu May 16, 2013 10:34 am 
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Very interesting article, Greg. Almost makes me want to go back and start studying Sanskrit again. Not quite, but almost.

As for Guenther, I've found that the road to good translations is paved with not so good translations, and in that sense he was one of the greatest trail blazers any of us could ever ask for.


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